Ever heard the advice that one should “learn to say ‘no'”? It’s good advice and I’ve certainly started to apply this to my own life. One thing’s for sure: it pisses a lot of people off. But it also makes people respect you more. I was conscious of coming across as a bit of a doormat, and while I do not think this was a fair or reasonable assessment of me, that’s what I had to work with.

I didn’t see a problem with treating others as I wish to be treated, but those unfortunately aren’t the rules that everyone else plays by. There’s a very thin line between being open, and letting people just walk right in and take whatever they want. I was brought up to be “nice” and to defer to others, and it became apparent in adulthood that no-one gets a prize for being agreeable. Pushing back against all this has made me so much more confident and determined to get what I want from life. I’ve also noticed people’s surprise when I tell them that, actually, no, I don’t want to just do the thing that would make their lives easier. I have agency over my own life, thank you.

So here’s the example that really set me over the edge. I was working for a boss that was encroaching more and more on my personal time and sanity. I was in the joyous position of working for several line managers, which isn’t so unusual for some industries and project types. But their project was somehow more special and worthy of my attention than everyone else’s, and so they pestered me to the point of micromanagement to work only for them. They even told me that I had to learn to say “no”, while expecting a “yes” from me at all times. They didn’t discuss it with any of the other managers, so I had the double problem of being unable to say no to this person, and getting into trouble for not working on other people’s projects. Hurrah.

And then it just got worse. You’d think that having got my fullest attention, they’d leave me alone to get on with it. Nope. They were (metaphorically) sat over my shoulder “helping” (read: Not Helping) me get the work done. They were actually sat on the corner of my desk, talking at and over me. Two things:

  1. Personal space;
  2. How did they expect me to do the work properly and on time with this level of distraction?

I’m not sure why they’d be so desperate to have someone working for them if they had so little confidence in them that felt they had to do this.

And then, even worse than that. I was expected to do extra hours if necessary to meet deadlines. This is just how it was and often is, and was the same for everyone. But I’d mentioned that I was away at the weekend for a very important conference and literally everyone knew how excited I was about it. But I had to drop my weekend plans with one day’s notice for this person. No-one else got asked except for me.  Combine this with the fact that this person was already making me come in on non-contracted days to the extent that my studies were suffering, well, I think you can tell how upset I was.  My stress levels were off the scale, and I was considering quitting.

And so, I said “no, I’m not going to put up with this any more”. I didn’t do it alone, I raised concerns with others higher up the food chain (because raising it with the person concerned didn’t work, and it demonstrated that I had the conviction to speak up about something that I felt was unfair). I am so glad that I did, because it sparked a chain of events in other areas of my life.

I decided that I could apply the model of Taking Crap Off No-One to many other scenarios. I started doing more things with my life that I really wanted to do, but felt apprehensive about. I stopped giving in to other people’s demands and expectations and stated my own case. I graciously accepted others advice and concern, but mentally told them to stick it. And it felt bloody brilliant. My life is so much better a couple of years on. I’m living the life that I wanted, I’ve established sensible boundaries, and I have a stronger feeling about who I am and what I need.

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